10/22/2014 02:50 pm ET Updated Dec 22, 2014

The End of the EPA

Giving industrial polluters a warm, fuzzy feeling, Iowa Republican senatorial candidate Joni Ernst is advocating abolition of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

She would transfer the Agency's duties to the 50 states, claiming that they "know best how to protect their natural resources... and can work together without the EPA."

What she overlooks is that many states lack sufficient resources and/or the will to pick up the slack. Should she get her way, there would be plenty of places in this country where polluters would have a field day.

Even in the unlikely event that the states were equipped to assume EPA's national regulatory mission, it would be difficult for them to mount an effective coordinated response. Most modern environmental threats transcend state borders. These threats don't lend themselves to fragmentary responses that would most assuredly come from 50 different jurisdictions with different capacities and conceivably conflicting priorities. (Environmental disputes between states are not a rarity.)

Also keep in mind that state environmental regulators are more vulnerable than their federal counterparts to undue influence from local industry. Suspect polluters could well be state regulators' neighbors, and sheer proximity can breed uncomfortable and potentially corrupting familiarity.

EPA is also best positioned to monitor international technological advances in pollution abatement and bring them to our shores.

Bottom line: The federal government is most qualified to coordinate establishment of mandatory national minimum environmental standards that assure a decent level of protection for all Americans. If states want to extend environmental protection beyond the minimum standard, they should be accorded maximum flexibility to proceed, as California has done with auto emissions.

Of course, the naive Ms. Ernst is not alone in urging elimination of the EPA because of alleged regulatory overreach. Many in her party have echoed similar kooky sentiments. Newt Gingrich in his ill-fated campaign for the 2012 Republican presidential nomination called for the EPA to be replaced by a new federal entity that was more "evenhanded," whatever that meant.

According to the polls, the American people overwhelmingly oppose the Republican vendetta against the EPA. If anything, the public wants the Agency to be more aggressive in implementing scientifically based regulation. This should come as no surprise. Most Americans justifiably view the EPA as the only national institution specifically standing in the way of environmental threats to their health and welfare.

Ernst's proposed demolition of the EPA thus defies logic. As an aside, there is something counterintuitive about candidates running hard to serve in a federal government they largely despise and significantly want to dismantle.

The EPA may not be perfect (sometimes not going far enough as well as too far). But realization of Ernst and Company's grand design would be a classic case of the proverbial "throwing the baby out with the bath water."